Shocking though it may seem to some of my intrepid readers, there are a few subjects about which I do not blog (CD is currently trying to think of any, yes? Poor man is subjected to far too many of my neuroses.) One of those topics is steplife. Now, I do have places in which I can vent and find advice, but normally I don’t blog about it because of the levels of complexity involved and because it includes people other than me who may not wish to appear in these musings.
That said, I am going to blog about it today, simply because I was provided with a gift last night in the form of a learning moment, where several strands of my Lenten discipline and my week’s musings ran aground of one another. I had mentioned before that I had thought of writing a post with this title, but later abandoned it. Last night, however, brought the title back screaming.*
So, here we go.
As I mentioned earlier this week, Rev. Dean’s sermon got me thinking about stories this week, and we discussed how telling our own stories in any capacity involves a certain amount of exposure; we cannot control, once the story begins, where it will go and who will attack. So, often, we do not tell out stories–about faith, life, fear, joy, nor anything else. We simply close ourselves off. Such a tendency is a hallmark of my steplife existence; rather than wade into the conflict between G. and his ex-wife, I try very hard to avoid it.
On the same day as the sermon, I read a few chapters in The Places that Scare You in which Chödrön discusses the need to “drop our storylines.” Storylines are necessarily different than our “stories,” thought they bear out some significant common features. Our storylines often temporarily (and falsely) protect us from suffering (at least when we aren’t engaging in self-denigration) and they are more often than not simply internal (though, I’m sure you have met folks who insist on narrating their own lives…she says as she writes this *sigh*) monologues that we use to excuse and blame and otherwise fail to be compassionate, joyful, and balanced, rather than our history and ideas, which is the stuff of Rev’s “stories.”
When I started reading Chödrön’s texts, I wondered how in the world I could possibly live up to the aims she lays out–particularly concerning compassion, forgiveness, and equanimity in certain areas of my life. I recalled a moment from many years ago in which a dear friend was talking to me about the relationship I was then in and the paralyzing depression I was then navigating. He remarked, sad and a bit angry, “What happened to the bitch I knew?” Without wandering through the world of “bitch” too much, suffice to say that I knew what he meant. Once upon a time I had been fairly demanding and uncompromising; while I was not, accordingly, the nicest person to deal with in many instances, I protected myself and I protected people I cared about. I often used aggressive techniques, including a rather sharp tongue, but I was disinclined to be trod upon.
That bitch had faded into the depression and she was not protecting me or anyone else. She’s returned over the years, a softer, gentler bitch, who recognized the need for peace and consensus, rather than angry and aggressive tactics. This is not to say that I’m not capable of being an absolute nightmare–I am imminently so even in my awareness that I need to mitigate the bitchiness, but, as students and TG would probably attest, I have a line and it’s pretty clear when it gets crossed. So, I wondered how I could use Chödrön’s methods, because even in my “adult life”…I am rather hard-hearted on some matters and I do not forgive easily, both traits that might lead some to label me as “bitch.”
Yeah, fine, whatever. Such labeling doesn’t bother me, unless I really am being unnecessarily aggressive. One of the places I see my most “heart-hearted” moments is in steplife, where I find myself wildly unforgiving and anxious.
Now, I have told stories about steplife. I’ve blogged about my experiences as a stepchild, and Lord knows I’ve whined and complained and bragged and otherwise storied my life as a stepmother. Many of the stories are humorous, and more often than not, they have a central experiential kernel: the “truisms” of steplife. While our stories may have different characters and events, we can find common structures in the life of the American stepfamily.
I also have storylines that govern my participation in steplife (one of which is the above mentioned bitchiness). First and foremost is anxiety, unfortunately. I do not, for various reasons, get along particularly well with G.’s ex-wife, though it started out okay (then again, if you had asked me 7 years ago about steplife, I think the story would have been akin to those stick-sweet children’s stories where princesses and princes and sweet little children frolic in meadows singing songs and gazing at fluffy clouds through rosy glasses and other such ilk). For several years now, I have simply tried to avoid confrontation of any variant, but especially the face-to-face variety. I detest the anxiety associated with every public event that demands that all of us be present; I make myself as scarce as possible as quickly as possible. Why? Because I am a coward. The storyline associated with my cowardice: I don’t like confrontation; I can’t trust them not to argue; I need to get out of this.
So, last night was one of those events and I tried something different; following Chödrön’s suggestions, I tried to live within the anxiety, rather than escaping it. I noted that I was feeling anxious, but I tried not to associate any storylines with the anxiety (such a strange feeling, too)…I just let it be. This seemed to go well enough that I did not make my quick exit at the end of the evening, per normal habits. I did not engage in small talk (that not being one of my strong points in the best of days), but I did stay put. When moments for potential upheaval arose, I did not acknowledge them. Now, when I was in the car driving home, those little upheavals tried mightily to hang around and confirm the standard storyline. I did two things with the drive. One, since I was alone in the car, I turned up the music to drown out my thoughts (thank you Guns N’ Roses, this was a most useful engagement of the tracks of Spaghetti Incident I chose to listen to). Now, I realize that drowning ones thoughts is not necessarily a positive thing to do, but it helped. The other thing I did was to use a meditation practice of labeling such thoughts as “thinking” and then letting them go without dwelling.
I have to say that it made for a far more relaxing evening in the long run, not mulling over the events and rehashing what might have been meant by this or that. I’m sure I could still be labeled “bitch” or “cold,” based on the interactions, but I’m at peace with that–I cannot control the labels put on my by others, only my own actions and reactions. My favorite sign off–peace–is, after all, not about life without confrontation and strife, but a life that exists within confrontation and strife and still strives for balance. What will this mean for the hard-hearted, nasty bitch? I’m not sure…such attributes are useful at times…
I mulled this more as I ran this morning (4.5 miles–woohoo!), and I’m pretty comfortable with the outcome. So, we’ll see where this can go from here.
ETA: *well, sort of. I apparently mistyped that. It was to be “Hard-Hearted”…now I can’t decided which version is more apt.